While this series of Spotlight On is quite rightly a celebration of IJURR’s many achievements, my own reflections on the state of urban studies are tinged with a slightly more ambivalent sense of the current state of the field. This ambivalence is prompted in part by comments from a friend and colleague who noted what a difficult moment it is for any graduate student now forced to position his or her research in relation to what appear to be two opposing camps of urban research. Had he been faced with the current field as a graduate student, he suggested he might have chosen to develop his studies elsewhere rather than tread the invisible line between an imagined them and us. Indeed, the juxtaposition of a purportedly muscular Marxism with a purportedly more nuanced, comparative and postcolonial approach appears increasingly commonplace. One might find intimations of such camps when browsing the most cited and most accessed publications on IJURR’s webpages. However, one finds more explicit accounts in the various progress reports on the field. Within these reports, diverse approaches have been corralled into two overarching frameworks: Urbanization 1 and Urbanization 2. The latter typology draws on a transposition of Chakrabarty’s reading of history. If History 1 refers to the process of abstraction through which a capitalist logic is said to have unfolded, History 2 captures the folkloric, religious and mythological challenges to this process of abstraction. Marxists are therefore assumed to be solely interested in abstract logics; postcolonial thinkers are assumed to focus on cultural practices and beliefs that are separate from but might puncture such abstraction.
Elsewhere, within my own sub-field of Urban Political Ecology, a first wave – generally defined by its fidelity to a radical geographical tradition – is contrasted with a second wave that is said to be more open to postcolonial framings. The roots to urban political ecology are therefore traced to a more Eurocentric framing, emerging within the radical geography of the 1970s and 1980s. Such roots are then contrasted to the more ethnographic work of political ecology, which finds affinities in the agrarian studies tradition and within area studies. Behind this typology, once again, lies an assumption that the radical geographical tradition is inherently Eurocentric and that this Eurocentrism has been transposed into the first wave of urban political ecology.
I am not at all convinced that such typologies capture the field accurately, nor am I convinced that they facilitate creative research within urban studies. And while it is not my intention to mount a defense of radical geography, I would wish to note the range of conversations, debates and approaches that have made up this disparate “tradition”. I would also note the risk of a certain chauvinism for the new that emerges through the juxtaposition of a first and second wave in which, in rather teleological fashion, critical scholarship is seen to march towards a better future. There is surely a risk that – in a fetishistic move – it will be the typology itself that permits what can and what cannot be researched in Urban Studies rather than the dialogues and debates from which urban studies gains sustenance.
The separation of urban research into two rival camps in which only one is seen to work through a genuinely comparative lens hinders approaches that might analyze the many complex processes through which urbanization has manifested differently in different places. This is not to deny the Eurocentric framing of much that has gone by the name of urban studies. Nor is it to deny the ongoing dominance of Anglo-American research, which, itself is propped up by a publishing model and assessment frameworks that help to ensure its ongoing reproduction. Instead it is an argument for a type of work that transcends some of the more simplistic typologies and that continues to situate practices and urban processes within the contexts in which they emerge, always understanding these as relationally defined and not in isolation. It is an argument for deepening our understandings of how comparative research might be practiced and one that might be done through dialogue with historical materialist and radical approaches. My own sense is that urban studies is at its best when it draws from situated practices and understandings, developing a fusion of theory and practice from an attempt to find a theory adequate to those situated practices and a practice capable of overcoming theoretical dualisms. IJURR has been a crucible for such work over the last forty years and will continue to be so in the coming years. Surely this is the kind of intellectual legacy our graduate students deserve.
IJURR Editorial Statements
Julie-Anne Boudreau, Matthew Gandy and Maria Kaika (2015) Volume 39.1
Reflections on the Academic and Economic Environment
Julie-Anne Boudreau and Maria Kaika (2013) Volume 37.6
IJURR: An Editorial Statement
Jeremy Seekings and Roger Keil (2009) Volume 22.3
IJURR: Policy Statement
Patrick Le Galès, Susan Fainstein and Linda McDowell (1998) Volume 22.1
IJURR: looking back twenty-one years later
Michael Harloe, Enzo Mingione, Chris Pickvance and Edmond Preteceille (1998) Volume 22.1
Founding Editorial Statement
Michael Harloe (1977) Volume 1.1
© 2017 THE AUTHOR. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF URBAN AND REGIONAL RESEARCH, PUBLISHED BY JOHN WILEY & SONS LTD UNDER LICENSE BY URBAN RESEARCH PUBLICATIONS LIMITED
This is an open access essay under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.